After winning four junior triathlete world titles I was on track to go to the Olympics in 2008 but didn't make the team. That was a big hit. So I switched to Half Iron Man and won four or five races including the world champs. I found I'm better suited to longer races that really test your endurance and strength, so everything happens for a reason.
2 How long is an Iron Man race?
The 3.8km swim takes about 50 minutes. The 180km bike race is four hours 30 minutes and then the marathon's about 2 hours 45 minutes. Those distances came about in Hawaii where they had the Waikiki rough water swim, the Round the Island bike race and the Honolulu marathon. After one of the races they were in the pub arguing about whose sport was harder and they decided to put them all together.
3 What do you like about Iron Man events?
The cool thing is you can set your own goals. When I did my first Nutrigrain Iron Man in Taupo my one objective was to get through the marathon without walking, which doesn't sound like much because you can run a marathon quite easily, but when you're starting one 5.5 hours into the race ... running down that finish line just sent shivers down my spine.
4 You train for 30 to 40 hours alone each week. Do you ever get bored or lonely?
Like anyone's job, you have moments that are really tough. You're on a 6-hour bike ride and it's bucketing down with rain and you question your career choice. When you're younger you don't need training partners because you're fresh and excited but when you've been doing it for 15 years, you find having a training partner makes things a lot more enjoyable. I've got an American buddy staying with me for six weeks. Having someone going through the same thing and hurting as much as you makes it so much easier to get out the door.
5 How safe is it cycling around Auckland?
I train on quieter roads out west in places like Greenhithe, Coatesville and the Waitakeres. I've been knocked off a handful of times. Sometimes people intentionally try to scare you by veering really close but the majority of people are pretty courteous. I think that needs to be a two-way street. Every year you see more and more people on bikes as our culture becomes more health-orientated.
6 Scientific research in areas like nutrition can sometimes be conflicting. How do you decide which findings to heed and which to ignore?
If my coach Jon Ackland and I think something's going to be the next big thing we'll give it a test by working different nutrition strategies into the diet and then looking at the numbers. For most of a training block you stick to the diet you know works, so you have your staples which can get boring. After the race you have a bit of down time where you're binge-eating junk food. Chocolate is my weakness.
7 Have you ever had to overcome a major injury?
I had Achilles surgery in 2012. When I came back I was only placing fourth and fifth. I started wondering whether the sport had taken a big jump forward and left me behind. You can't compare times with triathlons but you can log and compare things like heart rate, length of stride, cadence of stride and speed. My coach and I found that the length of my stride was 15cm less on average before the injury so it was back to strength work.
8 Do you have other interests or is your sport all consuming?
By the end of a 7 or 8-hour day training you're too tired to do anything but sit on the couch and watch TV. I'm usually in bed by 9pm. Leading into a big race, you're putting everything on the line so if you make too many compromises along the way you're only cheating yourself.
9 Do you have an active social life?
I do. The three high performance benchmarks we work around are being balanced, healthy and happy. My wife and I love to go out to dinner with friends and have a couple of wines.
My two best friends are heavily into sports as well. One's a Paralympian and the other's gone to a few world series for open water paddling.
10 You have a 9-month-old son, Cavalo. How has fatherhood changed your outlook on life?
It gives you an appreciation of what really matters. What you do, at the end of the day, is just your job. Your life is this little guy running round. My wife's got her own company designing handbags and jewellery, Zabbana, which allows her to spent four to six months a year travelling with me. We're still trying to get our heads around how to include him in that. Fortunately both sets of parents live close by and love to help out.
11 You were born in Johannesburg, South Africa. When did you move to New Zealand?
When I was 11 and my brother was 9. I went to Rangitoto College. My parents taught us to embrace the culture so ever since we got off the plane we've supported the All Blacks. We've never renewed our South African passports. When we got to New Zealand we drove around looking for a place to settle down and the reason we chose the North Shore was actually for the swim club. I wanted to be a professional swimmer but when I was 13, I popped my eardrum in a wakeboarding accident so I switched to duathlons.
12 Were you pushed into sports as a child and will you do the same with your children?
No. My parents never gave us a hard time when we wanted to stop doing a sport. Every kid is going to have days where they go, "I don't want to go to training." You don't say, "okay, just quit", you say, "that's fine you can have a rest", and then offer encouragement. One of the things my parents ingrained in us was a good work ethic.
Dad's a project developer and mum's an accountant and even now, the amount of stuff they fit into a day is amazing. They gave us plenty of opportunities and taught us that if you're going to do something then you might as well strive to be the best you can be.